I’m A Secondary School Teacher. What We’ve Come Back To Isn’t School As We Know It

Schools are open again! After a long period in a wintry lockdown, the nation’s schools have reopened their doors, allowing students and staff back into classrooms for the spring term.

It has been truly wonderful to see my students and my colleagues in person again. I have truly missed them, and can fully appreciate speaking with them face-to-face after such a long absence.

However, we must also acknowledge the immense pressures, demands and challenges that school staff face while teaching in a pandemic.

At my school, we are now on our third or fourth version of the school timetable this year, featuring staggered start and finish times, staggered breaks and staggered lunchtimes. Meanwhile the school site has been reorganised around a one-way system, with different parts of the site allocated to different year group bubbles. Maintaining this system with over a 1,000 young people every day is no small feat. Still, we must remember what we’re told: it’s great that schools are back.

We are teaching and educating our young people, ensuring that they are fed and watered, and now we are being asked to administer lateral flow tests for each one.

Since returning to school this half term, schools have also been asked to provide on-site testing for students, thereby turning our classrooms into Covid clinics. To be really honest, I’m not sure what else we can be asked to do – we are teaching and educating our young people, ensuring that they are fed and watered, and now we are being asked to administer lateral flow tests for each one. Truly, there is no end to the multitude of talents and tasks of the teaching workforce.  

The testing has had huge numbers of staff involved, time and resources were required, to the extent we have had to ask volunteer parents to help us administer the flow tests. Besides the tests, students are now asked to wear masks in classrooms. However, just like the tests, masks in classrooms are not compulsory – which, yes, renders the entire process futile. But still, it’s great that school is back!

The masks have also proved challenging while teaching and learning. Have you ever tried to ask a student at the back of the class to read something from the board while wearing their mask? Have you tried to listen to a child speaking while simultaneously asking his peers to remain silent so that the one child can be heard? But no, it’s great that schools are back!

We may be approaching spring; however the weather is always quite temperamental – this March, we have experienced rather cold spells. However, teachers are being asked to keep windows and doors open to ensure that classrooms are ventilated. Although I appreciate the importance of this measure, there is still the issue of children and staff being incredibly cold while attempting to engage with the teaching. Last term I was wearing gloves while writing on the board during lessons because my hands were so incredibly cold. But, yes, it is wonderful to be back to school!

Though we approach the end of the spring term, we still lack clarity on the assessment process for our GCSE and A-level students.

And though we approach the end of the spring term, we still lack clarity on the assessment process for our GCSE and A-level students. We would love to provide guidance for our young people; however this is proving to be rather difficult; the government have still yet to publish the materials and questions which students and schools will be able to use.

We were told last week that the materials and questions would be made public to all after the Easter break. So, exams were cancelled and have been replaced with some other exams? However, schools do not have to use these materials should they choose not to. Thereby leaving the entire process inconsistent across the country. But that’s fine, at least we are back to school!

Lastly, as a teacher that is actively involved with her students, to be confined to a hazard taped box at the front of the class is wholly unnatural to me. Restricted and confined, I can only teach from the front of the classroom, which isn’t teaching at all. It’s more like presenting to a group who may or may not be interested in what I have to say.  

This is what teaching in a pandemic is like. I know everyone is happy that children are back in school but I can assure you this is not teaching as we know it.

Anjum Peerbacos is a secondary school teacher

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